Keepin' it real at Castle
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PINCHER CREEK, AB – It takes about an hour, I'd say, before the charms of Castle Mountain sink in. After checking into the no-frills hostel and claiming a ramshackle locker, I slap on the boards and embark on the two-chair ride to the rocky, snow-smeared summit. A couple of grizzled locals, still nursing wounds from the Maritime-themed lobster feast and foot-stomping party the evening prior, guide me into the famed south chutes. And then the fun really begins.
Two heart-pumping trips down Lone Star, a Castle Mountain classic with a relentless 600-metre fall line (the longest in Canada, they say), works me to the bone. After Round 2, I reach the bottom panting like a dog and dart into the local watering hole (the rustic T-Bar, where many a pint has been poured) to calibrate to the culture. Lo and behold, the grizzled boys are there, smirking and slurping. They motion me over and a couple of cheers later, I have two new friends. And another reason to believe that throwback ski-bum bastions like Castle Mountain are worth their weight in gold.
Let's just come right out and say it: Castle Mountain is not Banff. There are no posh hotels. You will not find dozens of overpriced restaurants. You will not find glitz. And Castle Mountain certainly doesn't do glamour. But what you will find at Castle Mountain in spades is authenticity. And skiing. Very, very good skiing.
Thankfully, at the ski industry's core, driving its values, shaping its future, are people who revere a ski resort for, first and foremost, what it offers on its slopes. And there isn't an industry insider alive (or, for that matter, a chute-loving, glade-gorging, powder pig) who would be shy about extolling the virtues of Castle Mountain. (Unless, of course, they want to hoard their secret powder stash for themselves. In which case, you couldn't really blame them for the awkward silence that might ensue when the topic of Castle Mountain is broached)
A legend in its own time, Castle Mountain Resort is tucked away in the far southwest corner of Alberta, approximately 250 kilometres south of Calgary. Wedged between Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildland Provincial Park in a raw and rugged region of wind-blasted beauty, Castle Mountain Resort isn't a new kid on the block. It's been around since 1965. And, even though it sometimes flies under the radar, it has a legion of loyal followers.
Famous for its non-stop, thigh-burning, steep-and-deep fall lines peppered with pine – some of the longest in North America, Castle Mountain is a skier's ski resort. While newbies and cruisers can certainly get their kicks on the 10-year-old Huckleberry Chair, a green and blue-run playground with a dozen runs, or so, that sweep down a moderate pitch, t's the snow-pounded upper bowls on Gravenstafel Mountain, the crazy-steep chutes that plunge off its southern flank and the beautiful black diamond glades, well, everywhere, that have given Castle its cult-like status. And, of course, the epic powder dumps that provide fresh tracks for days afterwards. (Castle receives, on average, nine metres or 30 feet! of snow per year and, happy happy joy, joy, very few days with lift lines.)
Adding to its aura is its unpretentious vibe, its value ($94.95 for an adult day ticket – about 25% less than the Banff resorts), and its rustic, 80s-era ski bar with enough old memorabilia plastered on the walls and ceiling to warrant a couple of visits to soak it all in. (And, for the love of all things decent, get the flatbread pizza.)
Last but certainly not least, the cat-skiing offered at Castle Mountain also adds another lofty, leg-burning layer to the experience. The Powder Stagecoach rumbles to the "out there, snow-plastered slopes" of Haig Mountain (lift expansion may soon make this awesome terrain accessible for all skiers) and yields a face-shot filled day that even medium-talented (that's me) skiers will enjoy.
On my recent visit, I left few stones unturned. I boarded the cat for epic runs on Haig. I skied the chutes. I ate powder in the North Bowl. I chucked back flatbread pizza and craft beer (Fernie Brewing First Trax Brown Ale seemed appropriate) in the T-Bar. And, three days later, I left sore and sweaty, baptized with blower-pow and eager to experience Castle's charms and challenges again.
If you go
Get more information on deals and packages at Castle Mountain when you visit the official website.